Hazor Dig Report: Days Four and Five

You may have realized that I didn’t post an update related to day four of my dig here at Hazor, as there was very little of significance to report. I woke up Thursday very well rested, as I was unable to stay up and watch the Euro match the night before–and therefore was in a great, peppy mood to begin the day. (Well, I was as peppy as one can be at 5:00 am.)

I also worked harder on Thursday than I had on the previous days, which was evidenced by the regular fountain of sweat pouring from my face. I feel like I should come back home ten pounds lighter or so, given all of the sweating, digging and heavy lifting I’ve done so far.

One of the positives on Thursday was finding a rather large potsherd, pictured below. Of course, we find hundreds (or even thousands, depending where we’re digging) of sherds in a given day, but some are recognizably more special at the outset given their size or the presence of some unique feature, like designs, or the sherd’s location on the piece of pottery. Especially interesting are pieces of the base, handle, or rim, by which it becomes easier to understand the function of the pottery, its classification, and, perhaps, its rough date of manufacture and use.

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Thursday’s find: the bottom of a vessel.

The sherd pictured above was found lying face down (base up), such that the first clue I found was a circular object and a small depression. I knew the sherd could not be too big (or completely intact) given that it was nestled next to a large rock. In the end, I thought this could have been a bigger chunk of pottery, but it still was probably my group’s most interesting find for the day.

Fast forwarding to Friday, I found another interesting piece of pottery. This, pictured below, is the neck piece (not a scientific term) of a chalice, which is a stylized cup that is often used ceremonially or ritually. One would normally hold the chalice by this neck piece. I found it quite by accident–I didn’t see it immediately while I was digging with my pick, but when I was shoveling a mound of loose dirt into a bucket. Unfortunately, we have found no similar pieces that could allow us to reconstruct the chalice further. It was likely demolished, but this beefy piece survived the 4,000 years or so since the Middle Bronze Age.

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Friday’s find: the neck of a chalice.

Thus ends the fifth day, and first week, of the dig. It was an exhausting (but exciting) week!

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The evening lectures began this week on Wednesday, with a general introduction to the excavations at Hazor led by Amnon Ben-Tor. Much of the information was a recap, given that I had read plenty of articles on my way over, but just like the tour he led of the site, it was enthralling to hear it from a source that has been present at Hazor since the late sixties. More interesting was the next evening’s introduction to pottery reading, where we learned how to determine if a given vessel is open or closed, and what general function it would have served (storage, cooking, food presentation, etc.).

This weekend, I am traveling out of the kibbutz with a group of South Africans that has reserved a bus to several biblically significant sites. On Saturday, we will head north to Dan, Caesarea Philippi, Capernaum, and other places around the Sea of Galilee. I will definitely go with them on this trip, but I haven’t committed yet to Sunday, when the group is planning to take the same bus toward the western coast of Israel. Either way, I will surely have some great pictures from the weekend, and likely a blog post to accompany it. Until then, thanks for reading!

Hazor Dig Report: Day Three

Though it is now officially day three of the dig, it was, for all intents and purposes, day one of the actual digging. We are now beyond the winter wash and into the layers that we wish to save and study.

The day began with the construction of our shade over Area M. The shade netting, which we repaired from the previous season’s holes yesterday, had to be stretched over the area and tied off along the fence surrounding it. We then set some support poles in place to make the shade more taut. Below is a picture of the shade now covering the dig area.

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Don’t be too baffled by the South African flag; nearly half of our excavation group traveled from there.

I was assigned for the day with a handful of people from South Africa to a section within Area M referred to as the “plaza.” This section has baffled the dig directors since last season, when a relatively early mud-brick hut was uncovered in a higher layer of an adjacent section. This is problematic because a general rule of archaeology says that the deeper you dig, the deeper you go back into history. However, the opposite seems to be the case in this “plaza” section: it has showed signs of being later (more recent) than the surrounding areas which are above it. The question is: how much later? The dig directors were adamant that any Iron Age materials found in this section would be very problematic, causing us to jokingly say, with our novice knowledge of prehistoric pottery, that every new find displayed Iron Age characteristics.

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Here is the vicinity of my Area M section. More specifically, I worked today mostly in the upper right quadrant of this photo.

The general method of digging today involved picks, hoes, shovels and buckets. We took off a layer five centimeters (two inches) deep from our section, being sure to collect all the pottery and bones from our section in a pre-defined bucket, so that it could later be studied and easily connected to the place in which it was found. Five centimeters may not sound like much, but collecting the artifacts and disposing of the common dirt mix from five centimeters, when multiplied by the entire Area M, will consume an entire day.

Because this was the first “actual” day of digging, it was the first day of pottery washing. Thus, when we cleaned up the dig area, we relocated to a new place under some trees to wash everything we had found during the day, per the normal routine.

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These pottery crates include most of the finds by the dig group today.

Thus ended our day, and we were soon after bussed back to the kibbutz from the tel. As for now, I must get something of a nap, because tonight we will have our first evening lecture, followed by a Euro 2012 football match that I hope to stay awake for. Day three of fifteen, complete!

Hazor Dig Report: Day Two

Some photos from the day are below, but many more can be found on my Flickr Photostream! Be sure to look at both!

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Day two was another strange day on the tel. I’m not even certain it is appropriate to call this a dig report, given that much of the day was spent doing other things.

Anyhow, upon arrival we were split among two groups, and my group was instructed to mend holes in the large shade-netting that we intended to suspend over the top of Area M. Though we did so, this was a difficult and annoying process: using thin metal wire and pliers, we sewed holes shut to the best of our abilities. However, some holes were more like long rips, so it’s fair to say that we did some delicate suturing of last season’s surgery.

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This is the large shade netting that we had to repair early this morning.

At this point, the truck towing the arial photography balloon pulled up, and we finally had something to take our minds off the shade netting repair. The balloon, and its operation, was rather cool: the operator held a machine that looked rather like an Atari, with buttons, dials, levers and a screen through which he could control the flight of the balloon and the orientation of the camera. Below is a photo of the balloon in action high above Area M.

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Area M is directly below the photography balloon.

After the balloon show was over, we found other, more badly damaged pieces of shade netting that were to be used for other areas of the tel this year. So, our annoying job wasn’t quite over; it was just getting started!

Finally, I was able to descend the ladder down into Area M, and the brief spell of digging began. Using picks and hoes, we de(con)structed the top layer of a couple of walls, shoveling the dirt and rocks into buckets as we went. While doing so, one of my dig partners discovered a couple pieces of an alabaster jar, and not far from us, another digger found what seemed to be the nipple-shaped lid of the jar. Unfortunately, I did not snap pictures of these.

Shortly hereafter, at approximately 9:15 am, came the call for breakfast, and after breakfast, it was announced that Professor Amnon Ben-Tor, who has led and been part of the Hazor excavations for 30-plus years, would lead us on a tour of the tel. How often does one get such an experienced tour guide? Our tour was fantastic, as my Flickr Photostream might show (hint, hint).

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A biblical olive oil press.

Above, for example, is an olive oil press found in a traditional Israelite home (the wooden rod, rope, and baskets are all modern implements added to show how the press would have worked). Our guide explained that the olives would have been smashed into a pulp in the container to the left, before being placed in the baskets and weighed down over the course of a few days in order to collect the oil in a floor-level jar.

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The Hazor warrior!

And this “Israelite” guard keeps watch over a tower on the western edge of the tel, just outside of the city walls. Ben-Tor explained that it was placed here after a long battle with the Israeli government–over the specific aesthetics of the warrior–in order to attract passers-by to the site.

The tour eventually finished, but we were prevented from doing any actual digging back in Area M because of a lengthy clean-up operation involving a tractor, some large rocks, and the balot, which are large bags into which we had been dumping our dirt and rocks. The tractor will not be at our disposal every dig day, so we had to use it to lift away our junk while it was present today. Thus, our last job of the day was to remove our tools from the dig location by the use of an assembly line-like “tool chain,” storing them in the coffins at 2012 ground level. Day two of fifteen, complete.

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In all honesty, I’m not sure I will always have enough interesting material for a “dig report” blog post every day. In some cases, I will have to write about other topics, if I write at all. My wife has suggested a few different topics, including kibbutz life, the Israeli food, and something on the other people with whom I am digging. To me, these all seem like great ideas, and I will incorporate them in a post eventually. Let me know if there is anything else along these lines you’d like to read about in the comments below!

Hazor Dig Report: Day One

Today was the first day of the 2012 dig season at Tel Hazor. As is normally the case, the first day of an excavation is somewhat different from each day that will follow. First of all, the site must be prepared properly: all of the dust, leafy matter and “winter wash” that covered the previous season’s progress must be cleared away and deposited elsewhere.

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I found this sign not out in front of the entry way to Hazor, but leaning up against the side of a shed. Anyway, welcome to Hazor!

Thus, after carrying tools out of giant tool coffins, our job for the day was to sweep up leaves, dust, and other nonsense in order to make the site look as presentable as possible. We accomplished this using hand brooms, dust pans (which were actually the end pieces of flat metal shovels), and plastic buckets. Tomorrow, a photography balloon will be set out above the site to take high quality pictures for the purpose of cataloging the season’s significant finds.

The specific site at Tel Hazor that the team will dig is known as Area M, which includes a gate connecting the Upper and Lower Cities. (The gateway is visible in the photos below if you know what you’re looking for; if not, look for the darker stones that serve as a floor.) Area M is a mishmash of both early (Canaanite) and late (apparently Israelite) structures in the different strata, so part of our struggle during the season will be to try to understand the puzzle that is laid out before us, and how the area might have looked in a given century.

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This photo includes the gateway to the upper city.

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Area M all cleaned up, almost ready for the photo balloons.

Because the dig directors didn’t especially care for anything we found in today’s cleaning, nearly every fragment of pottery, animal bones, rocks, etc. was destined for dumping. Instead of letting this happen, I managed to scoop up and rescue some of the more interesting pieces for show-and-tell purposes back home.

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Left: piece of what likely was a large jar, including part of its base.
Back: a quite thick piece of a pot.
Center: small piece of a jar, including part of its base.
Front: broken piece of a jar’s handle.
Right Mid: piece of another thick jar, including part of its lip.
Right Front: knuckle bone of a sheep or goat.

The work today was hard: I can already tell that I’ll be pretty sore (this seems to be the sentiment throughout the camp). Waking up at 4:00 am was surprisingly easy today, but I am sure the story will be different after a few days. The weather was bearable: from 5 until about 9 or 10, it was no worse than a sweltering St. Louis summer day. After that, the heat reached a new level, and I have heard that the weather will soon get hotter.

All in all, though, it was a fulfilling first day, and the excitement at what we may find in the days and weeks to come is becoming palpable. Here’s to our digging!

The Journey from Anderson to Haifa

While tweeting about the banalities of my journey from my home in Anderson to my first hotel in Haifa, I had been using the hashtag #38HoursToIsrael without much precise calculation. As it turns out, my rough calculation was just a little bit short: adjusted for the time zone difference, Lauren and I disembarked our apartment at 2:45 pm Thursday (Israel time), and I was dropped off at the Hotel Beth Shalom at 6:15 am Saturday. So if my math is correct, total running time: 40 hours, 30 minutes.

Well over half of that time was spent sitting down somewhere, and a very small minority of that time was spent asleep. That being said, this is not a post of complaints. I chose one of the lowest airfares I could find knowing well that I had a lengthy layover in Warsaw, and furthermore that I would land in Israel two calendar days after my departure.

For all the deliberation over taking a Greyhound bus to Chicago, this ended up being one of the more spacious, painless and productive parts of my travel. While the bus’ promised WiFi was not operational, I was able to churn out the better parts of three separate blog posts. And the connection from the Chicago Greyhound station to O’Hare was equally painless: just a three-block walk and I was on the blue line, the destination of which was the airport itself.

My flight to Warsaw was delayed by approximately three hours; I didn’t ask for a reason and none was given (I later learned that the plane, which had flown the exact same route in reverse, was itself late). Once we took off for the nine-hour flight, my luck was not much better: a wailing baby across the aisle from me, coupled with a man in the seat to my right who had a penchant for falling asleep over his Kindle with the bright overhead reading lamp distinctly ON, reduced my shut-eye time to very short naps.

Because of the flight’s delay, my half-day tour of Warsaw (scheduled for 2:00 pm) was in real jeopardy. Instead of landing at around 10:00 am with plenty of time to spare, we landed at 12:40 pm. Thankfully, passport control was a breeze and I also was quickly able to find an ATM to withdraw some Polish złotys. Thus began my search for a taxi.

If this endeavor in blogville is to be comprehensive, it must include both my successes and failures as a first-time international traveler. Here is my first failure, then: I followed a Polish man who offered a “taxi,” but who really was just an ordinary person who parked at the airport and waited to find some gullible bloke like myself. As we walked to his car, I came to realize my error, but he said he could get me to the location of my tour on time, so I continued on. Thankfully, this mistake only cost me about $13 over and above the rate of a legitimate taxi, rather than bodily injury (or worse). And as it turned out, I made it to my destination at 1:53 pm, with seven minutes to spare. Mission accomplished, even though I was taken for a ride.

The tour of Warsaw was very enjoyable, and I snapped a number of great photos of the various parks, monuments, statues, and so forth. Sadly, I was unable to photograph the various memorials related to the Jewish Ghetto, the Jewish uprising of 1943, etc., as I was both on the wrong side of the van and some of them were within a fenced construction zone, as a Jewish museum is presently in the works. Perhaps the most striking thing about the entire tour was how deeply sown-in violent, armed conflict the entire history of the city is. From wars of the 16th-19th centuries to World War II, almost every monument is dedicated to the remembrance (or glorification, unfortunately) of victories, defeats, bloodshed, lives lost, battles won, etc. In numerous cases, the cross of Christ and the sword are inexorably linked and equated. With greater reflection, perhaps I will be able to understand how I can paradoxically recall the tour both as “very enjoyable” and emotionally, philosophically uncomforting.

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Cross in one hand, sword in the other.

The tour came to a close after a walk through the Old Town, which, like much of Warsaw, was completely destroyed during World War II and later reconstructed. Many buildings in the area display two dates: not a timespan, but the dates of initial construction and reconstruction after the war. A prominent example of this is a Catholic church located in the Old Town, a photograph of which is below.

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The Catholic church, mentioned above.

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Constructed 1370, reconstructed 1956. See more photos from Warsaw.

One of the more helpless feelings of the journey came next. After knowing I had paid about double the rate to get from the airport to downtown on my “taxi,” I didn’t want to pay the taxi premium again. I decided to take a bus back to the airport, which, given my lack of understanding of Polish, was a real zoo. (Though to some degree or another I understand German, French, Spanish, Hebrew and Greek, Polish was like real alphabet soup to me.) At the ticket kiosk I was asked a number of questions to which I didn’t know the answer, and I just ended up buying a bus ticket for something around the fare of three to four złotys, which my tour guide had estimated. Thankfully, there was no one on my bus examining tickets for the entire ride to the airport!

Compared with the wait through security in Chicago, after which I lost both my sunscreen and my jar of Nutella (major frown), the security point in Warsaw was very painless. I noticed the man watching the x-ray scanner saying something in Polish about my backpack, but no further inspection occurred.

The wait in Warsaw was very long, and we were put in a maximum security, show-your-passport-and-boarding-pass-to-everyone-who-asks gate. But I did manage to recognize a fellow passenger from the Chicago flight that landed some 8 hours earlier, and we had a good chat while waiting several hours for departure. Her name was Mary, and it was her first trip to Israel as well. (Turns out she came for a wedding.) Like me, she also left the airport for a (different) tour of Warsaw, so we compared stories and the like. I won’t lie, it was kinda nice not being the only obvious American on the plane.

By the time we boarded, I was very exhausted, and I fell asleep shortly after takeoff, along with the great majority of other passengers. I appreciated that the flight attendants tucked a sandwich for me in the pocket in front of my seat; it would later come in very handy while waiting for my hotel to open.

Departing the plane, I was immediately pulled aside and questioned by security (I must’ve stood out from the other passengers, being both pasty white and traveling solo). Despite my 4:00 am, 38-hours-into-my-journey grogginess, I answered the woman’s questions rather well, and I was soon on my way. I think part of this is because this was unexpected; Passport Control was another story. The woman there was more confrontational, and I got somewhat flustered. I was allowed to pass, but was recommended for further questioning by a manager. His demeanor was friendly but stern (“So you are an archaeologist?” “Well, no, but I am a student with aspirations…”). Anyway, apparently I must have sounded at first like I came to Israel to do archaeology completely on my own. I was allowed to go on my way when I explained that I came as part of a program through the Hebrew University. Once I showed him my acceptance paperwork from the university, I received the much appreciated “Welcome to Israel.”

At this point, I followed the same drill as in Warsaw: get money from the ATM, and get a taxi. Thankfully, I had a better (and more specific) idea about what I was looking for: a Sherut, or shared taxi with 8 or 9 other people going to the same city. This way, what would have been a large fare for a one-hour ride became small. I was the eighth passenger on the van to Haifa, and when the driver found a ninth and a tenth, we departed. (Here I also turned down a random man offering me “taxi.”)

I stayed awake on the Sherut, mostly because I wanted to see what Israel proper was like. First impressions: there is construction everywhere! Look almost in any direction and you’ll see cranes, scaffolding, and construction zones galore. Also, there are more American businesses than I expected to see. Yes, I knew I would see plenty of McDonald’s. I didn’t know I would also see Office Depots. While on the Sherut, the sun rose and night became morning, and after dropping off 5 or 6 other passengers, I reached the Hotel Beth Shalom at 6:15 am local time. The hotel was closed, but a guest who was reading in the lobby opened the door for me. I was allowed to check in at 7:00, despite the official check-in time being noon. Toda raba, Sana!

Thus ended my travel to Israel, but in truth, the journey is just now starting. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading.

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I connected again with Lauren, before sleeping for 8 hours. I meant to wake up at noon, but didn’t until 6:20 pm. (Oops.) Then I went out to see some of Haifa…

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Lower Haifa viewed from the Louis Promenade. See more photos from Haifa.

Now, I am on a bus from Haifa to Rosh Pina in Galilee. Soon I will meet up with the dig group from the Hebrew University. Shalom for now.